Exposing the natural life in a churchyard: Conference
25th June 2019
A conference funded by National Lottery players, on managing churchyards for the benefit of wildlife and communities will take place next month in Potton, Bedfordshire where the council-managed churchyard underwent just such a transformation in recent years. The Council achieved this with input from the Diocese of St Albans Living Churchyards project and the Vicar of St Mary the Virgin, Potton.
Back in 2016 Potton Town Council instigated a new mowing regime for St Mary’s Churchyard to reduce the number of cuts in some areas, in order to promote wildflower growth.
“Initial results were patchy with wildflowers coming through wonderfully well in some areas, but in others long ‘rank’ grass developed which was not an improvement.” The new mowing regime wasn’t popular with some members of the community and the town council was remindedby the vicar of their responsibility to maintain the closed churchyard at St Mary’s church in a “decent and fitting manner”.
Subsequently in conjunction with the vicar, the Reverend Gill Smith, and the churchwardens the St Albans Dioceses Living Churchyards team was approached for help and advice. Gill and the churchwardens agreed that the grass could miss one cut in June 2017 to allow all the plants to grow. This would allow a full plant survey to be carried out by the local Wildlife Trust, which yielded exciting results. The churchyard was blessed with an abundance of Wild Clary, a rare plant in this neck of the woods, alongside many other species of interest and value.
With help from local Wildlife Trusts and the Living Churchyards project a further mowing regime was drawn up. Gill and the churchwardens agreed a Spring 2018 start that would encourage the wildflowers and maintain and enhance the churchyard’s serenity and beauty. Its aims were to create a wonderful contemplative area, allow the flora to grow and improve and ensure visitors knew the church was loved and in harmony with its surroundings.
Angus MacDonald, Chairman of Potton Town Council, had this to say: “The churchyard has never looked better. In the spring so many flowers now bloom and the compliments, not least from Gill, have made the effort of getting it started well worth it.”
Laura Downton from Bedfordshire Wildlife Trust says: “The work at Potton churchyard is a fantastic example of how we can all work together to enhance the interests of local wildlife while making spaces nicer for people to enjoy. Wild Clary, an uncommon plant in Bedfordshire, is flourishing under the new management.”
The mowing regime continues and the town council are now managing other areas of grass around the town to encourage flowers in verges and the parks.
The Revd Gill Smith said: “Churchyards have a lot of roles and the Living Churchyards project shows us how best to care for them to benefit wildlife and local communities at the same time bearing in mind the needs of worshippers, bereaved families and visitors to graves.”
Anyone interested in the management of churchyards, cemeteries or other enclosed grassy spaces will benefit from this free all-day conference in Potton on 13th July.